Islam is fast becoming the most followed religion in the world. It is estimated that by the year 2050, the Muslim population will be equivalent to the population of Christians. At the moment, there are nearly 1.8 billion Muslims all over the world, and the number is expected to rise significantly not only due to the rise in the number of Muslims due to typical population growth factors but also because of an increasing number of people switching over to Islam and away from other religions.
Generally, adherents of a faith experience population growth due to demographic reasons. In the case of Islam, however, a sizeable increase can be attributed to followers of other religions or ideologies entering the fold of Islam.
Reasons Behind Conversion to Islam
The rise in the Muslim population is in large part due to the demographic characteristics of the Muslim population. Many Muslim-majority countries are densely populated and have high birth rates. The population of these countries is generally young and has high fertility rates. All these factors together result in high population growth rates.
At the same time, people belonging to other religions are accepting Islam and becoming Muslims. It is important to understand the reasons behind this phenomenon. Here are some reasons why there is a trend toward conversion to Islam:
- Many people accept Islam after becoming familiar with the religion and accepting it after coming into contact with Muslims who have migrated to their country. This is particularly true for new Muslims in many Western countries who have Muslim friends or colleagues.
- Since Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, many people are also converting for marriage.
- Like Christian missionaries, Muslim teachers and scholars strive to spread the religion. Dawah is an important part of Islam, especially in the West and many African countries.
- A life lacking in belief and faith has brought about a crisis of identity and mental health for millions. This is also why so many people are turning to Islam. Islam brings discipline, morals, and hope into life, which is missing in today’s ultra-liberal and capital-driven societies.
The population of converts, reverts, or new Muslims have and continues to grow. At the same time, controversy surrounding the labeling of new Muslims has also increased. It is an unfortunate situation as it puts the focus on an aspect that is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, Yet, it remains a topic of discussion and needs to be examined in further detail.
The Correct Terminology for New Muslims – The Convert and Revert Debate
Newly converted Muslims have much to learn. It is easy enough to accept Islam by reciting the Shahada; however, becoming a practicing Muslim is less easy. It requires Muslims to learn and perform the five daily prayers. They must fast in the holy month of Ramadan and pay Zakat. If they can, they should perform the annual pilgrimage or Hajj.
Learning Arabic, reciting the Quran, and reading books of Hadith are also integral to becoming a Muslim. Having to justify a label should not be an issue. Still, discussing the differences between the various labels used is necessary.
Convert is a word used to describe people who adopt a new religion. It is a widely used word and does not elicit any misinterpretation. In this regard, when a person says they are a Muslim convert, it is safe to conclude that the individual was previously a member of another religion or a follower of an ideology other than Islam before becoming a Muslim.
Revert is not a word that is common outside of new Muslim circles. This is why there may be a source of misunderstandings. We must discuss why some people prefer to be called ‘reverts’ rather than ‘converts.’ One of the main reasons for using the word ‘revert’ is the saying of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ):
“There is none born but is created to his true nature (fitrah). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian,” (Sahih Muslim, 2658b)
The common interpretation of this tradition is that every individual is born a Muslim. Belief in One God is innately ingrained into our collective psyche. Only when we grow up and adopt the social and cultural norms in our proximity do we become members of a particular religion, creed, or ideology? By this qualification, when an individual leaves their previous beliefs for Islam, it is said that they have returned to their original belief condition.
The word ‘revert’ signifies a return to an original condition. It also assumes that all people are initially Muslims, as they are born innocent and free of any social cues that may impact belief. Only as they mature do they start learning and following the beliefs they see and experience being practiced around them.
Why the Word ‘Revert’ May be Problematic
Language is a powerful tool, and words are full of meaning. This is why the use of language should be done with a lot of care. The word ’revert’ clearly has noble intentions. It is meant to signify how Islam is the one true religion, as it is ingrained in us at birth. However, some have pointed out that there are a few problems with the usage of the word to describe new Muslims.
Here are the reasons why ‘revert’ may be seen as being a problematic term:
· Maybe a Misrepresentation
Muslims understand the ideology behind using the word ‘revert’ rather than ‘convert’; however, the same is not true for non-Muslims. ‘Revert’ suggests coming back to the religion, which may make non-Muslims think that ‘reverts’ are Muslims who left the fold of Islam and are now returning to the religion. Whereas the actual meaning is supposed to convey coming back to the original condition of the belief that everyone is born with. In this manner, the word may be misconstrued.
· Puts Down Non-Muslims
While the term is not meant to hurt or demean non-Muslims, it may be seen as such by those who are non-Muslims. Claiming to be a ‘revert’ implies that believers of other religions have strayed away from the true nature we are all born with. While such a belief is one thing, it is another matter to proclaim and advertise it openly.
Our beliefs should not be a source of hurt to others. Islam is a religion of peace, and it preaches love for all humanity, not just Muslims. Muslims must uphold the dignity of others, regardless of their beliefs.
· Underplays the Work New Muslims Put In
Calling a new Muslim a ‘revert’ indicates they are simply coming back to a familiar system of belief. That is not the case for the majority of new Muslims. Most converts to Islam have very limited knowledge of the religion before doing their research and being exposed to the beliefs of Islam. New Muslims learn, discover, and adopt the religion after a difficult process of understanding Islam. They must put aside deeply entrenched biases and turn away from beliefs and ideas that had been taught and reinforced in their minds for years from when they gained consciousness.
Adopting a new religion requires a person to completely alter their life. Becoming a Muslim is extremely challenging. Aside from getting knowledgeable and learning how to pray, new Muslims need to make sacrifices. They may have to leave things that they were quite used to, like alcohol. Some may even have to change their career. Many lose their family and loved ones in the process due to misconceptions related to Islam. New Muslims have many challenges ahead of them. It is important to not make their status or identity controversial.
Addressing the Issues
We have discussed how labels and identity are a source of contentious debate. Ideally, new Muslims should be able to refer to themselves as they wish and what they feel comfortable with. At the same time, they are representatives of the entire Muslim community, which is why they must vary in the way they present to others, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
It is easy to understand the word convert as it has been in use, especially in the religious sense, for a long time. It does not require a person to explain himself or herself. In contrast, revert is very specific to the Muslim community. Calling oneself a revert does not guarantee that the other person will immediately comprehend the context and reasons behind using the word.
It is best not to create further issues for new Muslims. They should be allowed to call themselves whatever they feel comfortable with. If they prefer ‘convert,’ let them use that, but if they want to call themselves ‘reverts,’ that is also fine. Finally, calling themselves ‘new Muslims’ is also perfectly all right. The choice is their own because it is their identity.